Refugee Power: Contestations over the Displaced during Mozambique’s War for Liberation, 1960-1974

My research examines Mozambique’s war for liberation from Portugal (1964-1974) and the arrival of nearly 100,000 Mozambican refugees in southern Tanzania. In the early 1960s, international humanitarian organizations had only just begun working in Sub-Saharan Africa: they had no standard protocol regarding their response to African refugees. My paper explores grassroots and Cold War humanitarianism during decolonization. It frames the arrival of Mozambican refugees in Tanzania as an unprecedented crisis that forced a wide variety of subsets within the international community to articulate their humanitarian interests and motives. I ask how and why the Tanzanian government, the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and ecumenical agencies provided humanitarian assistance during decolonization. My paper examines the creation of Mozambican refugee settlements in Tanzania; collaboration between humanitarian agencies and the Tanzanian state; and how the United Nations and the United States prioritized the settlement of Mozambican refugees out of Cold War interests. I argue that each of these groups viewed humanitarianism as a means to an end: they did not view Mozambican refugees as problems to be solved but rather as resources they might harness to meet their own agendas. I conclude that the history of refugee power during decolonization has been silenced.

About the Author

Joanna Tague

I received my PhD in African History from the University of California, Davis in 2012 and since then have researched and published on Mozambique’s war for liberation and decolonization in southern Africa. Currently, I am Assistant Professor of African History at Denison University (Ohio, USA) and I am a recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Career Enhancement Fellowship for academic year 2015-16, which provides a fully funded year to research and write. In summer 2013, I was a participant in the National History Center’s Eighth International Seminar on Decolonization (funded by the American Historical Association, the Mellon Foundation, and the Library of Congress). I am a contributor and one of the editors (with Iris Berger, Tricia Redeker-Hepner, Benjamin N. Lawrance, and Meredith Terretta) of the recently published volume, African Asylum at a Crossroads: Activism, Expert Testimony, and Refugee Rights (Ohio University Press, 2015). My chapter is titled “Before Asylum and the Expert Witness: Mozambican Refugee Settlement and Rural Development in Southern Tanzania, 1964-1975.” I also have an article (forthcoming) in the Portuguese Journal of Social Science, titled “American Humanitarianism at the End of Portugal’s Article African Empire: Institutional and Governmental Interests in Assisting Angolan Refugees in the Congo, 1961-1974.”


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